Adam Isacson

Still trying to understand Latin America, my own country, and why so few consequences are intended. These views are not necessarily my employer’s.

Categories

Get a weekly update in your email




UN

“Concrete actions”

Nicaraguan journalist Dánae Vílchez in the Washington Post on Friday:

The United States has taken some important steps, including the Nicaraguan Investment Conditionality Act that was approved this week by Congress, a bill that would place conditions on the “approval of loans to the Ortega regime by international financial institutions,” and expand the Magnistky sanctions on people close to the regime (including Rosario Murillo, the vice president and first lady). The United Nations, however, seems to believe that democracy and the lives of thousands can be defended with press releases.

But only concrete actions can stop a dictator such as Ortega, a man who possesses an unquenchable thirst for power and is capable of anything to keep it.

…and the piece ends there, leaving the suggestion of “concrete actions” in the air.

The barbaric raids last week on CENIDH, IEEPP, Confidencial, and others have all of us casting about for new ways to help Nicaraguans end their dictatorship. So what did Vilchez mean here? Is the United States doing enough, but not the UN? If so, is she calling for worldwide NICA and Magnitsky sanctions? Or should the United States and the UN both be going even harder than they are against Ortega and Murillo?

And if so, what are the best options?

The past week in Colombia’s peace process

(Week of September 30-October 6)

Prosecutor’s Office Raids Transitional Justice System Headquarters

On the afternoon of October 4 agents of Colombia’s Chief Prosecutor’s Office (Fiscalía, which investigates and prosecutes crimes in the regular criminal justice system) showed up at the offices of the new, separate transitional justice system created by the peace accords (Special Peace Jurisdiction or JEP, which investigates and prosecutes war crimes committed during the armed conflict). The agents, sent by the Fiscalía, demanded to be allowed to carry out a “judicial inspection” of the files in the new justice system’s first and largest case so far, numbered “case 001”: charges of mass kidnapping against 31 FARC leaders.

This action, which appeared to be a blatant interference in the new justice system’s workings, generated expressions of outrage against Prosecutor-General Néstor Humberto Martínez, a frequent critic of the JEP and other aspects of the FARC peace accord. Though Martínez quickly rescinded the order and called back the agents, JEP President Patricia Linares declared, “the Prosecutor’s Office obtained a digital copy of the casefile, due to the hasty manner in which the procedure was carried out.”

Linares “strongly and emphatically reject[ed]” what she called “the Fiscalía’s undue interference with the autonomy and judicial independence” of the JEP, adding that it was “openly violative of the judicial reserve that covers the investigations carried out by JEP judges.”

The UN Verification Mission and Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia issued a joint declaration following the incident:

The rights of victims and the legal security of participants in the armed conflict depend on strict respect of all public powers for the independence and autonomy of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace. We underline the importance that collaboration between jurisdictions be harmonious and fully respectful of their respective competences.

What Colombian media called a “train crash” between the old and new judicial bodies could have consequences for the peace process. It appeared to be a political move seeking to intimidate the JEP and demonstrate the Fiscalía’s relative power. It may have increased former FARC leaders’ fear of being arrested in a similar future show of political power, which risks causing more of them to abandon the process, either going into hiding or taking up arms again.

Missing FARC Leaders Send a Harshly Worded Letter

Two of the most prominent leaders who have already gone clandestine surfaced in a letter sent to the Peace Committee of Colombia’s Congress. Iván Márquez, the FARC’s chief negotiator during the Havana peace talks, and Óscar Montero alias “El Paisa,” once head of a powerful FARC mobile column, have been missing since June or July. Their letter, the first communication from them in months, had some very harsh words for a process they view as failing.

“The peace accord has been betrayed,” reads the letter, which laments having agreed to turn in weapons before reaching more specific agreement on the terms of ex-combatants’ reintegration. The letter outlines what, in the missing leaders’ view, are three “structural flaws” in the November 2016 accord.

First, they cite “judicial insecurity,” believing themselves vulnerable to arbitrary arrest and possible extradition. They allege that this is what happened to Jesús Santrich, a guerrilla negotiator close to Márquez who was arrested in April and faces an extradition request to the United States on charges of conspiring to transship cocaine. The two ex-guerrilla leaders write that these charges are a “judicial setup hatched by the Attorney General, the U.S. Ambassador, and the DEA.” Writing in La Silla Vacía, analyst Héctor Riveros notes that regardless of the truth behind the Santrich case, the “judicial insecurity” argument has served “hundreds of ex-guerrillas” as a pretext for exiting the process and joining armed dissident groups.

The second “flaw” noted in the letter are the changes made to the accord after it was narrowly rejected in an October 2016 plebiscite, which in their words “transfigured the Havana Accord into a horrific Frankenstein.” Third, they cite the Colombian Congress’s failure to pass all the legislation needed to implement the accord, especially reforms to the political system and the failure to create special temporary congressional districts to represent victims’ groups.

The FARC political party held a press conference in the Congress, with its legislators rejecting the arguments in Márquez and Montero’s letter. “They’re totally wrong,” said FARC Senator Carlos Antonio Lozada.

“I could hardly go and say that there are no conditions or guarantees while I’m sitting in the Senate press room leading a press conference. What we’re saying is that the process has difficulties, the implementation has not been consistent on the part of the state, but there are some spaces that have been won, we value them and they are very important to achieve progress in the implementation of the peace accords.”

Lozada called on the missing leaders to “understand” that the ex-guerrilla party has adopted a supportive but critical position on the accord’s implementation, and that they “reconsider their position.”

Meanwhile, Defense Minister Guillermo Botero told the Blu Radio network that “the police have intelligence reports” about Márquez and Montero’s current location. While refusing to reveal anything on the radio, Botero acknowledged that both are in Colombia.

US Ambassador Pushes for Santrich Extradition

The Jesús Santrich case remains a big test for Colombia’s new transitional justice system. The former guerrilla negotiator remains in prison awaiting a decision from the JEP about whether he may be extradited to face charges in a New York federal court of conspiring to send 10 tons of cocaine to the United States in 2017, after the peace accord was ratified.

“Extradition is a very strong tool for Colombia, for the United States, for the victims and for the peace agreement,” U.S. ambassador Kevin Whitaker said this week. “Jesus Santrich is accused in a United States Court of having violated U.S. law, that is why we are seeking his extradition and we will continue in that.” The ambassador added, “Any person or institution that can stop the extraditions affects the interests of the United States, affects the interests of Colombia and of all those who long for peace.”

The FARC insists that Santrich, a FARC ideologist who has poor eyesight and little apparent prior involvement in the guerrillas’ narcotrafficking, is innocent. They doubt the evidence made public so far, which appears to show Santrich offering approval to a plan, hatched by a nephew of Iván Márquez, to send coca to Mexican narcotraffickers who are, in fact, DEA agents or informants.

Farc Senator Victoria Sandino said, “It’s been more than six months since they captured Jesus Santrich, with the argument that U.S. justice has the evidence,” but “the Prosecutor-General’s office then goes out and says it does not have it. And now the Embassy persists in the extradition. What we say is show the evidence and present it to the JEP. And Santrich’s legal defense demands freedom, because no evidence has been shown.”

Sandino is referring to this chain of events:

  • When another country requests the extradition of an individual facing trial in the JEP, the peace accord requires the JEP to determine whether the alleged crime took place before or after the December 2016 ratification of the FARC peace accord—the official end of the conflict. If the crime happened before that date, then extradition would be blocked.
  • This procedure left unclear whether the JEP was merely to perform the clerical task of certifying the date of the alleged crime, or whether it was also empowered to decide whether there was enough evidence to back up the allegation.
  • Colombia’s Constitutional Court settled this question in August, when it determined that the JEP does have the ability to evaluate the evidence backing an allegation.
  • On September 18, the JEP asked the Fiscalía to turn over all the evidence in its possession about the Santrich case.
  • On September 27, the Fiscalía sent a letter to the JEP stating that it had turned over everything it its Santrich file. La Silla Vacía commentator Héctor Riveros characterized this as “the ‘bureaucratic file,’ that is, some letters and little else.”
  • On October 1, the Fiscalía announced via Twitter that it had sent 12 more audio files to the JEP. But it also surprisingly announced that it “does not have audio or video evidence. …The elements being requested now are those that form part of a judicial process in the United States.” That the proof against Santrich is not available in Colombia drew much attention in Colombian media.
  • According to Riveros, the Chief Prosecutor then tried to do some damage control: “Prosecutor Néstor Humberto Martínez, aware of the seriousness of Santrich’s detention, invited the directors of the most influential media in the country to his office to show part of the evidence on the basis of which the former negotiator’s arrest was ordered. They were short videos and some photos that, although they did not reveal anything, hinted that Santrich may have been literally caught ‘with his hands in the cookie jar.’”

“If everything keeps going like this,” Riveros wrote, “that Jurisdiction [JEP] can not say anything other than that there is no proof that Santrich has committed crimes after the accord’s signing.”

New Security Council Report

The UN Verification Mission in Colombia issued its latest quarterly Secretary General’s report to the Security Council on the demobilization and reintegration process. It covers July 21 to September 26. Some of its key findings:

  • As of August 30, approximately 13,000 demobilized FARC members had been accredited by Colombia’s Office of the High Commissioner for Peace, and 12,773 of them had been provided with their accreditation, an increase of 150 since July. It’s hard to notify some of these ex-guerrillas of their accreditation because of their “increased dispersal.”
  • On August 10 the FARC gave the Office of the High Commissioner for Peace a list of about 1,000 additional former members, who were not on the “final” list of August 15, 2017, the date the FARC officially disarmed. Most of the new names, the Secretary-General’s report notes, “come from areas affected by continuing security challenges and where the integration of the individuals into the process could be beneficial. As such, I hope that this matter will be treated by the new Government as a priority.”
  • As of late August, 232 accredited ex-guerrillas were still in prison, even though the accord calls for amnesty for their crime of sedition, and then for their future appearance before the JEP for more serious crimes.
  • The UN Mission reiterated concerns about “the departures of several former FARC-EP commanders from the territorial areas for training and reintegration in the south-eastern region. Some of them have cited concerns about their physical and legal security as a motivating factor.” Ominously it adds, “this development has underlined the continued fragility of the peace process, owing in particular to the persistence of violence in the zones of conflict linked mainly to criminal groups.”
  • The Mission’s chief, UN diplomat Jean Arnault, said that about 4,000 ex-FARC members remain in the “territorial areas,” or demobilization sites, or their immediate vicinity. (Ex-guerrillas have been free to leave these sites since August 15, 2017.) More than 2,000 have moved to “several dozen new regrouping points and thousands are dispersed throughout all of the country, including in the main cities.”
  • “The process of economic reintegration is clearly lagging behind other dimensions of reintegration,” the report states. “[T]he fundamental goal of providing income-generating opportunities to some 14,000 former combatants is far from being realized, as illustrated by the fact that only 17 projects have been approved, of which only 2 are currently funded.” Former FARC members are carrying out dozens of productive projects, informally, on their own. Many could succeed, the UN report contends, “if provided with better access to technical and marketing advice, land and overall support from the Government, local authorities and the private sector, among others.”
  • Nine former FARC members were killed during the 90-day period, making a total of 71. The Fiscalía’s Special Investigation Unit, set up by the peace accord to investigate these killings, notes that three-quarters of these killings took place in five departments: Nariño (16), Antioquia (15), Cauca (12), Caquetá (8), and Norte de Santander (7). The UN report notes further, “In 34 cases, the Unit reported significant progress in its investigations, with 17 instigators or perpetrators arrested. Of these, 15 cases involved dissident groups, 7 involved private individuals, 6 were attributed to ELN, 4 cases were attributed to the Clan del Golfo criminal group, 1 involved local criminal organization and 1 case remains under investigation. According to the Investigation Unit, the principal motives behind the attacks are related to territorial control (21 cases) and revenge (3 cases).”
  • Even without direct negotiations, the UN report states that “continued direct communication between the Government and ELN is welcome.” The report finds that renewed peace talks are certainly possible: “The Government has made it clear that it expects a cessation of all violence; the ELN, for its part, has stated that it aims to bring about substantive change based on a broad social dialogue. The two goals are not incompatible.”

FIP Report Finds Deteriorating Security Conditions

The Ideas for Peace Foundation (FIP), a Bogotá-based think-tank founded by members of the business community, released an extensive report on October 3 about deteriorating security guarantees for practicing peaceful politics in post-conflict Colombia. “From a feeling of tranquility and expectation for the returns that the implementation of what was agreed with the FARC would bring,” the report reads, post-conflict regions “have passed into distrust and fear for the reactivation of violence.” It zooms in on four conflictive regions: Arauca, Catatumbo, Cauca, and southern Bolívar.

Among the report’s findings:

  • In the 170 municipalities (counties, of which Colombia has about 1,100) that Colombia has prioritized for post-conflict Development Programs with a Territorial Focus (PDETs), homicides increased 28 percent in January-July 2018, compared to the same period in 2017.
  • In these municipalities, forced displacement tripled, from 5,248 people to 16,997.
  • In these municipalities, crimes against social leaders also nearly tripled, from 24 to 67.
  • Throughout the country, 93 social leaders were killed between January and August, compared to 50 during the same period in 2017.

In the four regions it looked at, the FIP found common patterns:

  • an unstable confluence of armed actors;
  • a reactivation of social conflicts;
  • vulnerability of social leaders;
  • delays in the implementation of the peace accord;
  • weaknesses in ex-combatants’ reincorporation process; and
  • difficulties in implementing security guarantees at the local level.

The FIP calls for urgent measures to prevent further deterioration of post-conflict zones’ security situation. “Under these conditions, the implementation of the peace accord is at a critical moment. We still have time to prevent and contain the manifestations of violence and intimidation in the territories affected by the presence of illegal armed groups and armed confrontation.”

Kidnapping of Mayor’s Son, Age Five, in Catatumbo

Two armed, motorcycle-mounted men kidnapped the five-year-old son of the mayor of El Carmen, a municipality in the violence-torn region of Catatumbo, in Norte de Santander department near the Venezuelan border. The mayor, Edwin Contreras, is part of a political dynasty in the 2,000-person municipality; his uncle had held the post before him. “Since he became mayor, he has received strong intimidations,” reports El Espectador.

The Catatumbo region, with 11 municipalities and a population of about 300,000, has suffered frequent fighting between the ELN and a local guerrilla group, the EPL, since March. The two groups previously had cordial relations, but the departure of the FARC from part of the zone, and a sharp rise in coca cultivation, undid the local power equilibrium. Violence has since shuttered schools at times and displaced thousands.

While the kidnappers’ identity is unknown, speculation points to the ELN. “In this municipality, even a needle can’t move without the ELN knowing about it,” local residents who asked to remain unnamed told El Espectador. “We’re so exposed that on any given day they can kidnap the mayor’s son,” the municipal ombudsman said. “There is no Army here. There is a police presence, but they can’t do their job. They can’t go out. We’ve reiterated this issue in all official security meetings. We are abandoned to our fate.”

In-Depth Reading

The past week in Colombia’s peace process

(Still catching up. This is the week of April 15-21.)

Ecuador Will No Longer Host the ELN Negotiations

The president of Ecuador, Lenin Moreno, announced April 18 that his country will no longer host the ongoing peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the ELN. Government representatives and guerrilla leaders had held five rounds of talks in Quito since February 2017. Moreno’s announcement came days after the murder of two Ecuadorian journalists and their driver, whom a group of re-armed FARC guerrillas had abducted in late March on Ecuador’s side of the border with Colombia.

“I have asked the foreign minister of Ecuador to put the brakes on the conversations and put the brakes on our role as a guarantor of the peace process while the ELN does not commit to ending terrorist actions,” Moreno told Colombian cable news network NTN24.

“President Santos understands the reasons why President Moreno has decided to move away from his role as guarantor and host of these negotiations,” Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguín responded, adding that Colombia will seek a new foreign country in which to hold the talks, which have made only very modest progress on their agenda. The candidate leading polls for Colombia’s May 27 presidential election, rightist Iván Duque, endorsed Ecuador’s move: “President Moreno was completely right to suspend the dialogues with the ELN. What President Santos did not do, the Ecuadorian government did well.”

The talks’ remaining five guarantor countries are Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Norway, and Venezuela. Analysts asked by Colombian media coincided in the view that Cuba or perhaps Chile is the best choice for a new venue: Brazil is about to have elections, Chile just inaugurated a new conservative government, Norway is too far away, and Venezuela is roiled by political and economic instability. Another option would be to continue the original vision of “itinerant” negotiations that move from country to country, which poses logistical challenges.

Moreno’s decision came after the journalists’ kidnapping-murder, another kidnapping of two Ecuadorians who remain in custody, and several attacks on Ecuador’s security forces in the border region, mainly in the Pacific province of Esmeraldas. All of these actions were perpetrated by the so-called Oliver Sinisterra Front, a grouping of ex-FARC members headed by Walter Arizara, an Ecuadorian-born former FARC member who goes by the alias “Guacho.” Though the ELN has nothing to do with Guacho’s group’s actions, the attacks on Ecuadorian soil have soured public opinion in the country toward Colombian armed groups in general.

The Colombian journalism website Verdad Abierta adds that Ecuador’s government was also probably miffed at the “lack of diplomatic tact” with which Colombia’s government handled the reporters’ kidnapping and murder.

For more than two years, annoyance has been incubating within the Ecuadorian Defense Ministry over their Colombian counterparts’ lack of commitment to the design of a joint border security strategy that would include contingency plans. Since that time, it was known that some FARC units wouldn’t accept the accords signed with the Colombian government.
… A researcher who has studied the armed conflict dynamic in that border region for several years, and who asked not to use his/her name, affirmed… “The Ecuadorian government has always felt undervalued by the Colombian government. The situation intensified with President Juan Manuel Santos’s response to the situation with the murdered journalists. This had several elements, for example that he did not go to Ecuador to meet with Moreno at a moment of intense pain for Ecuadorians. This was seen as an affront.”
That atmosphere became even tenser after President Santos’s clumsy statements saying that “Guacho” was Ecuadorian and that the reporters were killed in Ecuador. Those statements were interpreted by many Ecuadorian people, including by international bodies as saying “that’s Ecuador’s problem.”

On April 15, two days after President Moreno announced the reporters’ death, President Santos recognized that the reporters were killed on Colombian soil. The bodies remain there, unrecovered.

On April 19 someone—the Colombian military said the ELN—bombed a power pylon in Nariño, Colombia, shutting off electricity throughout the border region, including the troubled port city of Tumaco. The peace talks, meanwhile, continue to seek a new venue at which to resume their fifth round.

Aftermath of the Arrest of Jesús Santrich

Seusis Pausias Hernández alias Jesús Santrich, the FARC ideologist and negotiator arrested April 9 on charges of conspiring to traffic cocaine, was transferred to southern Bogotá’s La Picota prison, where he will remain as Colombian judicial authorities determine whether he should be separated from the peace accords’ transitional justice process and extradited to the United States. Colombia’s Supreme Court denied a habeas corpus motion seeking his release; his lawyers contended, unsuccessfully, that the transitional justice system (Special Jurisdiction for Peace or JEP) should have executed the arrest order instead of the regular criminal justice system.

From his confinement, Santrich gave an interview to Colombia’s W Radio news station. He confirmed that he had spoken to Mexican traffickers —who were either undercover DEA agents, or had one or more DEA agents embedded in their group—but thought that they were potential investors in post-conflict agricultural projects. Santrich had been put into contact with the Mexicans by Marlon Marín, a lawyer who is the nephew of chief FARC negotiator Iván Márquez, a close associate of Santrich’s on the FARC party’s hardline wing.

Santrich said his relationship with Marín “is a working relationship about ideas for productive projects, specifically about farms growing native crops, to implement in zones where the accord on integral rural reform will be carried out.” He said that he did not know the name of Rafael Caro Quintero, the top Mexican drug trafficker whom his intermediaries claimed to be representing. “It’s very hard for me to keep in mind who could be a narco or not. Many people came to my house with the idea of contributing to moving the peace process forward, and all of the people who came were registered with the National Police.” Asked about the ink drawing he gave the Mexicans, dedicated to Caro Quintero, he said that he thought Caro was a potential investor, and that he had given similar drawings to Vice-President Óscar Naranjo and presidential post-conflict chief Rafael Pardo.

“You will never hear words like ‘cocaine, payment, five-kilogram packages’ come out of my mouth,” Santrich said. “This is like an Indiana Jones movie, everyone adding special effects and the setup is right around the corner.” He added, “It’s more likely that cocaine passed through the nose of the chief prosecutor of the nation than through my hands.” Recordings of Santrich’s conversations with the Mexicans, currently in U.S. authorities’ possession, may give a clearer idea of to what extent Santrich knowingly discussed a plan to send 10 tons of cocaine to the United States, or how he reacted when Marlon Marín—who had urged Santrich to meet the Mexicans—discussed the plan in his presence.

Yezid Arteta, a former FARC member turned columnist for Semana magazine’s website, called Marín “the typical lizard that one finds in all political parties and institutions, who seems to be one of the planners of the trap laid for Santrich.” On April 16, Marlon Marín boarded a flight to New York, where he has agreed to testify against Jesús Santrich as a cooperating witness. Asked about his relationship with his nephew, FARC leader Iván Márquez only said he was a “gentleman” whose “conduct will have to be investigated.”

On April 19 Márquez, who is slated to take a seat in Colombia’s Senate on July 20, notified Colombia’s Police and National Protection Unit that he was leaving Bogotá, moving “temporarily to the territorial space [FARC demobilization site] in Miravalle,” in the southern department of Caquetá, “due to the situation and until there is greater clarity and certainty about what comes next.” Santrich, on a hunger strike in La Picota, said he would rather starve to death than be extradited.

Aftermath of Revelation of Peace Fund Irregularities

A week after Colombian media reported on letters from European ambassadors and from Colombia’s Prosecutor-General’s Office (Fiscalía) voicing concerns about the management of special peace accord implementation funds, President Santos announced a “crash plan” to improve monitoring of resources and administrative steps to restructure management of resources from international donors.

The concerns center around the “Colombia in Peace Fund,” which concentrates a few hundred million dollars in resources for peace accord implementation projects, most of them from foreign donors. Though the fund is subject to close oversight and reporting, in order to speed delivery of aid it is largely exempt from often cumbersome procedures in regular Colombian law designed to prevent corruption in contracting.

The government found that 97 percent of the fund’s resources so far have gone to 40 contracts. “That’s why the denunciations and suspicions that persist about supposed poor management are so concerning,” reads an editorial in El Espectador. “In synthesis, it seems that the corrupt political bureaucracy that is so rooted in our country has also tried to stick its hand in the investments that should be consolidating the accord’s implementation.”

The concerns led to the dismissal of Carlos Fidel Simancas, a contractor of the International Organization for Migration who worked in the Presidency’s Post-Conflict Secretariat. “In that Secretariat,” El Tiempo reported, Simancas

was the manager of former Green Party congressional candidate Sonia Elvira Veloza Mogollón, who last Friday was called for questioning at the Fiscalía as part of the “group of people who played specific roles” in the presumed irregularities in the management of productive projects for demobilized FARC.
Another eight people—a list that does not include Simancas—were also called to the Fiscalía, and their offices and homes were searched on suspicion of being part of the network of Marlon Marín Marín, who according to the investigative body was a sort of articulator of a network that sought to enrich itself with peace contracts.
Marlon Marín first sought to obtain a cut of the contracts for basic healthcare at the demobilized combatants’ concentration sites.

This is the same Marlon Marín involved in the arrest of Jesús Santrich, the FARC leader’s nephew whom columnist Yezid Arteta referred to above as a “lizard.” Before discovering his efforts to strike a cocaine deal with Mexicans, Colombian authorities were already monitoring Marín because they suspected he was mishandling these health contracts.

Vice President Óscar Naranjo said that the government will seek “to accelerate the accords’ implementation, especially with relation to productive projects.” Treasury Vice-Minister Paula Acosta said that the government has contracted the accounting firm Ernst and Young to audit the contracts awarded so far.

Naranjo promised a detailed review of post-conflict productive projects. He said there are 214 such projects so far, in different states of development. Among them, 35, involving 1,533 ex-FARC members, are in the “formulation phase” and will cost about COP$22.764 billion (US$8.081 million).

“This is no reason, certainly, to slow implementation” of the peace accord, concluded El Espectador’s editorial. “The accord has already faltered too much for the government to keep delaying compliance with its promises. The money is there precisely to be spent as soon as possible and to put in motion everything that was promised. Can’t we do this with transparency?”

UN Secretary General Reports on Peace Process

The UN Security Council convened on September 19 to hear the Secretary General’s latest report on the peace process and the work of the UN Verification Mission. The ambassadors in attendance gave supportive statements and celebrated the progress away from conflict that Colombia has made. Some, most notably Russia, voiced concerns about the pace of implementation.

“While it is obviously too early to take stock of a peace process that has set ambitious and long-term goals,” UN Mission Head Jean Arnault told the Council that there is reason for optimism.

[W]e have already observed that it has achieved a notable reduction of violence in the context of the congressional elections. Similarly, it has created a series of institutions dedicated to overcoming patterns of social, economic and political violence in the conflict areas. …Throughout the implementation phase of the Peace Agreement, circumstances have occasionally tested the commitment of the two parties to stay the course. They have stayed the course.

Nonetheless Arnault, and the Secretary-General’s report, warned of problems. “[T]he resurgence of violence in several of the areas most affected by the conflict and the persistent pattern of killings of community and social leaders are the main subjects of concern at present,” the report emphasized.

The report highlights the slowness with which Colombia is reintegrating former FARC combatants.

Socioeconomic reintegration is lagging behind. The transition from early reinsertion to sustainable reintegration has not yet been completed, and this uncertainty continues to undermine the confidence of former members of FARC-EP in their reintegration and in the peace process itself.

Lack of progress in this respect is in good part responsible for the movement of former FARC-EP members outside the territorial areas, hence the growing importance of access to land, the design, funding and implementation of viable productive projects linked to local development and the creation of cooperatives to implement them.

Remarkably, Colombia still does not have a plan in place for reintegrating ex-combatants, violating a cardinal precept of how a peace accord should be implemented.

I reiterate the need for the National Reintegration Council to adopt, as provided for in the Peace Agreement, its national reintegration plan linking reintegration to development.

The Secretary-General’s report also voices concern for the security of former FARC members located outside the former concentration zones, and of threatened social leaders throughout the country.

I am concerned that, by all accounts, the killing of community leaders and human rights defenders has continued unabated in the past three months, despite several measures to address the alarming number of killings registered in 2017. This trend and the proliferation of illegal armed actors associated with it should be brought under control as a matter of urgency, as has been acknowledged by the President and top officials of his Government.
Of particular concern are the attacks against persons working to implement government programmes related to coca substitution and land restitution. Members of local community boards, the governance mechanism established in rural districts, are among the main targets of violence.

A Supportive Statement From U.S.-UN

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, read a statement that was significantly more supportive of the peace effort than has been customary for the Trump administration. It calls for greater government presence in territories, reintegration of former combatants, and action on land tenure. The expected exhortation to “accelerate its counter-narcotics effort” doesn’t appear until the 11th of 15 paragraphs.

The agreement that ended five decades of war in Colombia has created the conditions for the just and lasting peace that Colombians deserve. It was a historic achievement. But peace in Colombia remains an unfinished project. All of us have a role in ensuring that it succeeds.
…We cannot allow formerly FARC-controlled areas to fall into the hands of criminals and illegal armed groups. That would undo much of the progress of the peace accord. We encourage the government to continue efforts to eliminate Colombia’s ungoverned spaces. The United States also urges the government to continue the full implementation of the comprehensive peace plan. This includes efforts to reintegrate former combatants into civilian life.
The peace accord provides an important opportunity to address historical land issues that have driven conflict and violence in Colombia. We welcome President Santos’ landmark decree meant to formalize land ownership for more than 2.5 million farmers. Improving access to land is essential in transforming rural livelihoods. Criminal groups and narco-traffickers have dominated rural areas of Colombia for decades. With secure land titles, the Colombian people can provide for their families without feeling beholden to these groups.

DEA Investigating Corruption Allegations Against Agent

A story by BuzzFeed reporter Aram Roston, later picked up by the New York Times, reveals that the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Office of Professional Responsibility is investigating veteran agent José Irizarry, who had been stationed in the agency’s field office in Cartagena, Colombia. The nature of the now-resigned agent’s misconduct is not clear, but three anonymous sources told Roston “the scope of the case is believed to be unprecedented in the agency’s history.” One source said that Irizarry is also being investigated by the Justice Department’s Inspector-General and the FBI.

Proposal To Eradicate Coca With Drones

El Tiempo reported that the U.S. government’s estimate of the amount of coca planted in Colombia in 2017 reached a new record of between 220,000 and 230,000 hectares, up from 188,000 in 2016. The White House has not yet published its 2017 figure. Nor have Colombian authorities published their estimate, but the same article cites a Colombian estimate of 170,000-180,000 hectares, up from 146,000 in 2016. This apparent increase occurred even though Colombian government, police, and military eradicators uprooted, cut down, or directly applied herbicides to 53,000 hectares of coca bushes last year, and worked with farmers for the voluntary eradication of about 20,000 more.

As a result, the same El Tiempo article revealed, the Colombian National Police Anti-Narcotics Directorate (DIRAN) is pursuing the possibility of employing drones to spray herbicides on the coca fields. Each would fly a meter or less over the bushes, spraying the herbicide glyphosate.

In 2015, Colombia suspended the U.S.-funded practice of spraying glyphosate from aircraft after the UN World Health Organization published a literature review finding that the chemical “is probably carcinogenic to humans.” Glyphosate is still commonly used in Colombian (and U.S.) agriculture, and eradicators still kill coca with the more precise method of applying it from backpack-mounted dispensers, which presumably minimizes spray drift to populated areas and destruction of legal food crops. The drone proposal would enable similar close-proximity spraying without the risks that sharpshooters, ambushes, landmines, and booby traps have posed to human eradicators working in the fields.

On April 13, the DIRAN began testing drones from five companies. It is prepared in 2018 to spend COP$21 billion (US$7.5 million) on drones that meet a series of standards:

  • Ability to fly between 50 centimeters and one meter above the plants.
  • Ability to operate in temperatures ranging from -5 to 40 degrees Celsius.
  • Two GPS systems to guarantee precision of spraying.
  • An anti-collision sensor.
  • An automatic recording system that records the drone’s location at every second.

The DIRAN expects that each drone would be able to spray between 10 and 15 hectares per day, whereas a human eradicator can only destroy 3 to 5 hectares of coca per day. In an absence of government presence in coca-growing zones, though, it remains unclear what would prevent farmers with limited economic options from replanting the crop.

Fighting Between Armed Groups in Bajo Cauca and Catatumbo Has Displaced Thousands This Year

In addition to the Colombia-Ecuador border region, where the FARC dissident group commanded by alias “Guacho” has drawn much attention, two other regions saw intensified violence during the week between groups that remain active, and are growing, in post-accord Colombia.

The Bajo Cauca region in northeastern Antioquia, a coca production and cocaine transshipment zone a few hours’ drive from Medellín, is the scene of frequent combat between two organized crime groups. The Urabeños (also known as Gulf Clan, or Usuga Clan, or Gaitanistas), the largest organized armed group in the country, is battling a regional group called the “Caparrapos” (also known as the Virgilio Peralta Arenas Front). Both groups can trace their lineage back to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia paramilitary network that terrorized much of Colombia, and enjoyed some support on the political right, in the 1990s and 2000s.

So far this year, fighting between the two groups has displaced at least 2,175 people in the Antioquia municipalities of Cáceres, Caucasia, Tarazá, and Ituango. Violence has also been intense across the departmental border in southern Córdoba. Fighting on April 13-15 killed five people and displaced 210. In the sports complex in Tarazá’s town center, 120 of the displaced are currently taking refuge.

Sergio Mesa Cárdenas of the Medellín NGO Corpades told El Colombiano that the warring groups are getting support from the Mexican cartels that buy their illicit product.

The “Caparrapos” gang, led by alias “Ratón,” has alliances with Mexico’s Jalisco New Generation Cartel and Medellín’s “Los Triana” gang. Regarding the “Gulf Clan,” led by alias “Gonzalito,” the investigator says they have the support of the “Pachelly” gang from [the Medellín suburb of] Bello and the “Zetas” cartel.

The situation is arguably worse in Catatumbo, a poorly governed coca-growing region in Norte de Santander department, near the Venezuelan border. This zone had a longtime presence of the FARC, the ELN, and the EPL. The latter group, the People’s Liberation Army, is descended from the dissident remnant of a larger group that demobilized in 1991. (The Colombian government often calls them “Los Pelusos.”) The EPL remained active in Catatumbo, profiting from the production and transshipment of drugs into Venezuela; today it has about 200 members and appears to be growing.

With the FARC’s exit from the scene—the 33rd Front concentrated in a demobilization zone in Tibú municipality over a year ago—the EPL and ELN began to compete for control of its previous territories of influence. A longstanding non-aggression arrangement broke down in mid-March, and combat has intensified ever since. “According to voices in the region who spoke to reporter Salud Hernández-Mora,” El Tiempo noted, “it is all because the ELN believes that the ‘Pelusos’ violated accords to share the business that the FARC left behind.”

After a month of tensions and sporadic combat, the situation worsened April 15 with the EPL’s declaration of an “armed stoppage”: a several-day prohibition on all road travel, and often a requirement that local businesses shut their doors. Residents of several Catatumbo municipalities received pamphlets informing them of the stoppage, and many of the region’s population centers became “ghost towns.” Schools closed all week, “affecting about 45,000 children and 2,000 teachers,” according to the Norwegian Refugee Council.

Norte de Santander Governor William Villamizar declared a state of humanitarian emergency in Catatumbo, and asked the national government to authorize a dialogue between ELN and EPL leaders at the ELN negotiating table. The commander of the Colombian Army’s “Vulcan” Task Force, stationed in the region, said that “a special deployment has been done.”

Civil society groups in Catatumbo, along with the Catholic church and local governments, have joined in calls on the armed groups to leave the civilian population out of the fighting. Business owners tried to open their establishments for half-day periods, but, according to El Colombiano, were met by armed people “who obligated them to close with the threat: ‘we’re the ones who have the weapons here.’”

The UN Coordinator for Humanitarian Affairs says that 2,500 people have been displaced by Catatumbo’s violence since the situation deteriorated in mid-March. A government source told El Colombiano that the actual number is probably higher, as many displaced are fearful of registering and may be staying with relatives and friends. If the situation continues for another week, the source said, food could start running out in some communities.

In-Depth Reading

Ex-FARC reintegration is flailing in Colombia, a would-be OECD member state

Reuters photo at El Tiempo (Colombia). Caption: “Las zonas veredales están hechas para que las Farc se desarmen y hagan el tránsito a la vida civil.”

The chief of the UN mission verifying parts of Colombia’s peace accord implementation has had a rare public disagreement with the Colombian government.

On Tuesday, Jean Arnault urged officials to do more to keep former FARC fighters from slipping through the cracks. He pointed out some alarming things:

“A very high percentage of ex-FARC members are not in the ETCRs [Territorial Spaces for Training and Reincorporation, the former cantonment zones where FARC demobilized, but from where they are now free to leave]. The phenomenon calls for attention. The ex-guerrillas were about 8,000 on May 20 in the Village Zones [the cantonment zones] when the storage of FARC weapons concluded. As of August 15 [the day when ex-FARC members were allowed to leave], 70 percent remained. Today we estimate at 45 percent the number that still remain at the ETCRs.

“…[T]he greatest determining factor for these departures is effectively, according to the interviews the Mission has carried out, the loss of confidence in the perspectives that the ETCRs offer. Many expectations unmet for a long time. The El Gallo ETCR and the Policarpa ETCR have been almost totally abandoned, and their residents have moved to places that seem more favorable to them. Of other ETCRs, which weren’t abandoned, groups of 20 to 50 ex-guerrillas are leaving for the same purpose.”

Why would so many ex-guerrillas be disappearing without a trace? Arnault’s response defies belief:

“[A]s of today, a framework plan for reincorporation [of ex-combatants] still doesn’t exist. That was the central mandate of the National Reincorporation Council established a little less than a year ago.”

Faced with such a dire warning couched in diplomatic language, Colombian officials struck a wounded tone. Here’s the high commissioner for peace, Rodrigo Rivera:

“We’re surprised by Mr. Arnault’s declarations. Diplomatic channels exist to propose the sort of reservations that he proposes, and I see they weren’t sufficient. This sows the notion that there’s a sort of diaspora of FARC ex-combatants from the Territorial Spaces. …The purpose of the spaces was that they be temporary, they aren’t confined there and the UN knows it.”

Rivera is mistaken. The time for quietly routing things through diplomatic channels is over.

A core element of any peace process is the careful reintegration of ex-combatants. Thousands of unemployed, under-educated people with combat skills are being set loose in a country already challenged by organized crime, narcotrafficking, and ungoverned territory. That no plan is in place to occupy them, or even to keep track of them, is a failure at the most elemental level.

It’s worth noting that the day before Arnault and Rivera were exchanging words in Bogotá, Colombia’s foreign minister was in Washington. One of the things María Ángela Holguín brought up with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was the government’s oft-expressed desire to enter the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the Paris-based club of 35 wealthy nations.

Note the incongruity between Colombia’s first-world aspirations and the UN’s very basic warnings.

Granted, Colombia is in a budget crunch triggered by the drop in oil prices. And yes, the President’s governing coalition is fragile, and public opinion toward the peace accord is tepid as the March legislative and May presidential elections approach.

But it should not be too taxing for Colombia to fund a collective reintegration plan for the former FARC, right now, before thousands of seasoned fighters melt away and join the ranks of organized crime. The cost is not prohibitive. At least, not prohibitive for a country knocking on the OECD’s door.

We’re talking about 12,000 people. How much would that cost? Let’s ballpark it.

  • Each one receives 10 million Colombian pesos—a “normalization” payment plus seed money for a productive project—plus a stipend of about 663,000 pesos per month for 24 months. That all adds up to about 26 million pesos, or US$8,730 per ex-guerrilla. For 12,000 guerrillas, the price tag here would be about US$105 million.
  • Perhaps 70-75 percent of the 12,000 would like to work land, through cooperatives. That land would need to be purchased. Let’s say 4 hectares each (10 acres) times 9,000 people: 36,000 hectares, the size of a single cattle ranch in the country’s eastern plains. Even at a steep price like US$2,000 per hectare, that would add US$72 million to give land to ex-FARC cooperatives.
  • Many of the demobilized would need basic education and vocational training. Say, US$3,000 per person for 6,000 people. US$18 million.
  • All need psychosocial support, medical attention, and just basic monitoring. Assume US$5,000 per person times 12,000 — US$60 million.
  • That brings us to a total reintegration price tag of US$255 million. I’m sure this estimate is missing a lot—and there are some items in the peace accord, like support to ECOMÚN, a FARC cooperative, that don’t have specific price tags. So let’s add another 50 percent, and another 10 percent for administrative costs, and call it US$408 million.

US$408 million over, say, two years. Colombia’s one-year GDP is about US$285 billion. Colombia is currently collecting about US$80 billion per year of that as taxes. The cost of reintegration would be about 0.26 percent of that annual budget. Money can’t be what’s stopping the ex-FARC from being reintegrated.

Why Colombia hasn’t been able to reach up and grab even this “low-hanging fruit” is a mystery bedeviling most of us. As Colombia’s OECD aspirations make clear, the problem isn’t money.

It seems more like an ossified bureaucratic culture rendering the government almost inoperable. Combined with that familiar bugbear, “a lack of political will.” This term gets thrown around a lot but is really a “black box” obscuring deeper, structural problems like social power relations, corruption and criminality, and economic inequality.

These are poor reasons to risk a slide back into violence and victimhood in what, for now at least, are post-conflict regions of the country. The UN’s warnings about reintegration are on the mark. If anything, they’re too muted.

UNODC’s Colombia coca estimate is out

Chart of coca and eradication in Colombia since 1994

On July 14 the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) released (PDF) its 2016 estimate of coca cultivation in Colombia (the dark blue line). It shows a lower estimate than the U.S. government’s (the green line), but a sharper rate of increase over 2015.

UNODC identified four reasons for the increase:

  1. Some coca farmers “have a perception of reduced risk associated with illicit activity due to the suspension of aerial spraying and the possibility of avoiding forced [manual] eradication through blockades of the security forces.”
  2. Increased expectations of receiving compensation for substituting coca within the framework of the peace accord.
  3. “A general reduction of alternative development efforts in all of the country due to transition to a strategy centered on the elimination of crops to a strategy centered on transformation of territory.”
  4. Coca-leaf prices shrunk somewhat, but remain “at a high level.”

In an interview with Colombia’s daily El Tiempo, UNODC’s representative in Colombia, Bo Mathiasen, made clear that renewing aerial herbicide spraying—the preferred strategy of many in the U.S. government—is not the solution.

It’s a sovereign issue for Colombia. But the past impact of glyphosate [the herbicide that is sprayed] could be analyzed. Did it really work for anything and give the desired results? I don’t believe so. In the medium term, there was always replanting in these zones. Spraying happened, and they planted again. The desired change was not achieved.

Eight things that stood out to me in the UN High Commissioner’s Human Rights Report On Colombia

Pie chart of 127 murders

This frame from the report’s accompanying PowerPoint presentation [PDF] breaks down 127 murders of social leaders, human rights defenders, and activists during 2016.

Last Thursday the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) field office in Colombia released its annual report on human rights in the country, covering 2016. This agency, headed by U.S. expert Todd Howland, maintains 14 field offices around the country, closely monitors the situation, and issues recommendations to the government.

The new 18-page report is out in English and Spanish. The Office has also shared video of the March 16 launch and an accompanying PowerPoint presentation [PDF]. Upon reading the report, here are eight points that stood out to me.

One Human Rights Defender or Social Activist Was Murdered Every Three Days Last Year:

The situation of male and female human rights defenders continued to cause concern in 2016. Until 31 December, OHCHR observed 389 aggressions of the following types: 59 killings ; 44 attacks; 210 threats (69 collective); 72 infringements of the rights to privacy and property (including photographing, surveillance, computer theft); three enforced disappearances; and one case of sexual violence. The 59 victims killed included four women, six indigenous leaders, three LGBTI leaders, three trade union leaders, one Afro-Colombian leader and two youth leaders. Although there were more attacks and assassinations of members of trade unions, and social and political movements, these statistics only include aggressions against leaders.

(In the presentation accompanying this report [PDF], with updated data, OHCHR found that 60 social leaders were killed in 2016, as were 64 activists who did not play leadership roles, plus 3 cases still being verified, for a total of 127 murders. More than sixty percent of these killings took place in zones with a history of FARC presence.)

The FARC peace accord, and subsequent legislation, define “command responsibility” for war crimes in a way that doesn’t meet international standards:

OHCHR is concerned about several aspects of a constitutional reform bill applicable to State agents, presented under the fast-track procedure. The bill restricts and distorts the legal framework which judges must apply to alleged human rights violations committed by members of the military or police and does not meet international standards on superior and command responsibility.

In the peace agreement, the definition of “effective control” relating to the criminal responsibility of civilian or military superiors is partial and not in accordance with international standards. Effective control, as well as the scope of amnesties, should be interpreted in line with international standards and jurisprudence in order to ensure victims’ rights to justice and non-repetition. The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court could publicly offer clarity about applicable superior responsibility norms.

Slow Progress in Holding the Military Accountable for Extrajudicial Killings Does Not Extend to the Highest-Ranking Commanders:

According to the Attorney General´s Office, in the context of 2,316 open investigations until December 31, 133 members of the military and civilians were convicted between January and September.… Nevertheless, taking into account patterns in planning, commission and cover-up of “false-positive” killings, the responsibility cannot be limited to the material perpetrators. Only one of the 14 army generals currently investigated for these acts was called to trial.… In November, five senior officers implicated in the “false positive” extrajudicial executions committed by soldiers under their command, and who had received various benefits for these “results”, were promoted to brigadier general and major general.

The Colombian Government Erred Badly in Not Preparing the FARC Disarmament Zones in a Timely Way:

At the end of 2016, the temporary pre-grouping zones for FARC-EP members to undergo disarmament and reintegration had not been readied. This generated mistrust and vulnerability among FARC-EP members and provided an incentive for desertion or joining criminal groups. Clearly defined schedules, actions and responsibilities for successful reintegration with public participation are required.

75 Indigenous People Died of Malnutrition in the Corruption-Plagued Department of La Guajira, in Northeastern Colombia:

OHCHR continued to observe difficulties in implementing economic, social and cultural rights, for example in La Guajira, where nutritional problems primarily affect indigenous Wayúu children. Between January and November, the National Health Institute reported 352 cases of children with low birth weight and 75 deaths from malnutrition, 16 per cent of them under five years, in the department.

The humanitarian situation in La Guajira is closely tied to the department’s chronic corruption, as a new documentary by journalist Gonzalo Guillén illustrates.

The FARC has been too slow in releasing child combatants within its ranks:

The separation of children from the FARC-EP, agreed by the parties, cannot be postponed. On 10 February, the FARC-EP publically [sic.] confirmed they would end recruitment of children under eighteen. During the year, the FARC-EP only separated 13 children officially from their ranks. The integrated attention and reparation programme for children under 18 years remains under construction. OHCHR is concerned about allegations concerning the separation of children from FARC-EP ranks without official process.

The Military’s Internal-Security Role Is Growing, Not Shrinking, in the Post-Accord Context:

In the context of the peace process, the High Commissioner observes with concern the intervention of the military in citizen security tasks ranging from managing public protests to combatting organised crime. OHCHR reiterates that the military is not responsible for citizen security.… In exceptional situations and under established procedures, the national police may require military assistance which, in order to respect life and integrity, should be conducted under the principle of police primacy with rigorous independent civilian oversight.… OHCHR is also concerned about proposals by some local authorities to create vice-mayors for security, exercised by active military members on commission.… OHCHR laments that… the Ministry of Defence decided at the end of 2016 not to reassign financial resources from the military to the national police.

Colombia’s Forced Displacement Crisis Isn’t Over:

Despite the peace process, forced displacement continued. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reported that 47 emergencies stemming from new massive forced displacements, confinements and/or mobility restrictions occurred in 2016. These were concentrated in zones of difficult access in Córdoba, Antioquia, Choco, Valle del Cauca, Cauca, Nariño, Arauca and Norte de Santander. They primarily affected Wounnan, Emberá and Emberá Dovida indigenous, Afro-descendant and campesino communities. Approximately 13,864 people were affected by mass displacement.

Get a weekly update in your e-mail:




This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.